It is hypocritical to tell charities they should measure their impact when the government does not take impact into account when making policy decisions, Rob Wilson, the Minister for Civil Society, was told yesterday.
A member of the audience at the Community Action Southwark Making an Impact conference in London told the minister, who was speaking at the event, that it was unfair to instruct charities to measure their impact when the government had failed to do the same with legal aid before cutting funding for it.
"You’re preaching to us to measure our impact and to tell funders, but we’ve been telling funders and we’ve been telling you and it’s not being taken into account properly," said the delegate, who was applauded by other members of the audience.
"That’s been such a huge disappointment. The impact of legal aid funding – how it improves people’s lives and the savings it makes – was completely ignored in the whole assessment of those social welfare laws."
Wilson’s response was to highlight the millions of pounds that legal aid had been costing the Ministry of Justice every year, the relative generosity of the UK’s legal aid system, the 7 per cent fall in GDP the country had experienced and its almost £200bn annual deficit – comments which appeared to provoke scorn from several members of the audience.
"Cuts have taken place; nobody can deny that," said Wilson. "But you’ve got to ask yourself: can a country like this continue to sustain such a huge budget deficit year in, year out before the financial markets just run? Unfortunately, we can’t.
"We don’t want to go around cutting this, that and the other – that’s not what politicians go into politics for. But we had to take the hard decisions that perhaps others won’t take. It’s not pleasant, but we have to do it."
Wilson had given a speech on the importance of impact measurement for the voluntary sector, before inviting questions from the audience.
He said that although understanding of impact measurement had grown significantly in recent years, voluntary sector organisations sometimes found it difficult to come to grips with it.
"We now want to move towards a world in which high-quality impact measurement is the norm in social society," he said, urging charities to put measuring impact at the core of their businesses.
He said one way of doing this was to access the Impact Readiness Fund, a new £1.5m pilot fund that will offer grants and support to social ventures to improve their social impact performance planning.
The scheme opens for applications at the end of November and will be managed on behalf of the Cabinet Office by the Social Investment Business. Grants of between £15,000 and £150,000 will be available until late January.
Wilson also spoke about the difficulties charities faced in winning government contracts and said he was doing a lot to ensure the contracts were more open to social enterprises and charities.
When told that it was a burden for smaller voluntary organisations to demonstrate their impact in exchange for short-term funding from the government – such as the Autism Innovation Fund – Wilson said that the government was trying to reduce bureaucracy across all sectors, including charities, and that this was an area that would improve over time.